Industry comments urged on FDA produce safety ruleSAN DIEGO — Once produce safety regulations become final under the Food Safety Modernization Act, the industry will have to live with them for a long time.

With that in mind, panelists at the May 15 FSMA workshop at United Fresh 2013 strongly urged attendees to file comments with the Food and Drug Administration before the Sept. 16 deadline.

“Once it’s final it will take an act of Congress to change,” said panelist Walter Ram, vice president of food safety for The Giumarra Cos., Los Angeles.

“We have a lot of work to do between now and then,” Ram said.

“Don’t think that your input isn’t important. There is power in numbers,” he said.

FDA’s expanded recall powers; records access; requirements for soil, equipment and water testing; animal controls and worker sanitation will affect the entire supply chain.

“It will rock our world,” Ram said.

One provision of the law that will have a big impact with little upside for the industry is the preventive controls rule, which is stricter than the act’s produce safety rule.

The preventive controls rule was crafted for all food processing, and aspects of it fail to address produce-specific needs, Ram said.

If a packing operation handles another grower’s product, under FSMA it would be considered a processor and subject to the preventive controls rule’s mandatory micro-testing, FDA registration and supplier approval provisions.

“It makes no sense,” said panelist Bob Elliott, director of food safety at Sunkist Growers.

Elliott also mentioned FDA import rules that lack a funding mechanism, which importers fear could lead to inspection fees.

When making a comment to the FDA, Ram suggested to not just point out problems with FSMA but to recommend alternatives and talk about aspects of the current proposal that are good.

“FDA got a lot right,” he said.